When you think of selling online, what initially comes to mind? Probably physical products like printed t-shirts, handmade jewelry, or pet supplies, right? Creating or curating tangible goods to sell online is a common business model, after all—one that defines many who use Shopify today.
But when we say “product,” we’re talking about more than just things you can touch and feel. Many founders are using Shopify in creative ways to sell pretty much anything and everything else. Experiences, online courses, rentals, and digital products are just a few unique business ideas off the well-trampled path of selling physical goods.
The global pandemic hurt many services- and experience-based businesses, but the ones who survived were those who pivoted to virtual alternatives. Consumer trends tell us that online experiences are here to stay, making it easier to start a low-budget business from home—without having to manage inventory. What will you sell on Shopify?
1. Service appointments
In-person and virtual businesses alike can make appointments more seamless for customers (and staff) by offering self-serve online bookings. Salons, contractors, and music schools can sell virtual consultation time slots and in-person services through an online store.
Stores that typically sell physical products can also benefit from adding services (free or paid) to their websites. Toufie, an online footwear brand that sells handcrafted custom shoes, uses appointments to help nail the fit. “Appointment bookings are one of the integral components to a risk-free customer shopping experience,” says co-founder Meliza Salim. “And thanks to an app, booking a 30-minute fitting appointment is hassle free for us and our customers.”
💡 How to make it work: Appointment booking apps offer a dynamic calendar, letting customers book preferred time slots with real-time availability. An app like Appointly syncs with Google Calendar and automatically sends confirmation emails to you and the customer.
Many non-profit organizations rely on paid memberships as a way to secure ongoing financial support. Memberships can also be used by creators to sell access to exclusive content for their most avid fans. Golf courses, fan clubs, galleries, and educational content producers are more great candidates for selling memberships online, securing a long-term commitment from customers rather than selling one-off services.
The Buffalo Botanical Gardens sells single visit tickets but encourages visitors to buy memberships that allow year-round access and member-only perks.
All of these business types can sell memberships on Shopify using a simple app. Memberships work much like subscription businesses, relying on recurring payment functionality and customer account management tools.
💡 How to make it work: An app like Bold Memberships allows merchants to sell one-time or recurring memberships online, and can be used for physical businesses (say, a yoga studio) or to manage member-only access to content on a website.
Why not sell your expertise online? Everyone from interior designers to fitness trainers can use an online store to book and sell online or in-person consultations.
Brands that sell physical products can also benefit from adding consultations to the mix—especially if you’re an expert in the field. Healthy Habits Living sells nutritional supplements via its online store, and owner Carly Neubert offers personalized nutritional assessments also for purchase on the site.
Brands that specialize in customization or made-to-order products may sell consultations to help customers create the perfect product. Kaikini founder Taryn Rodighiero runs her custom bikini business with the help of online consultations to guide customers through the measuring and ordering process.
💡 How to make it work: An app like BookedUp lets customers book consultations with you on your website, syncing with Calendly to avoid double-booking. Also, try Shopify’s invoice generator tool for billing custom services that you sell through consultation.
4. Digital products
Digital products can refer to anything you sell that you deliver in a virtual format—course content, music files, fonts, or other design elements are a few examples. (Note: Later in this article we’ll dive deeper into selling courses, specifically.)
While Thread Theory founders Matt and Morgan Meredith sell physical products like scissors and paper patterns, they also offer a lower-cost option: PDF sewing patterns delivered virtually. Other businesses selling printed materials like magazines or journals may opt to offer digital versions that customers can print at home.
Experience-based businesses can range from travel and adventure providers to winery tastings to kids’ camps. These businesses can improve the customer experience by offering advance ticket purchases and scheduling options online.
Aspen Expeditions Worldwide sells rock climbing adventures, international guided trips, and camping expeditions through its ecommerce store. Since the product pages for each adventure do a lot of heavy lifting to inform, educate, and persuade potential customers to make big-ticket purchases, Aspen Expeditions organizes the information by adding tabs to the product description. The company also leverages video content to draw customers into the experience before they buy.
💡 How to make it work: Travel- or experience-based businesses may need to collect additional customer information, like medical concerns and emergency contacts. Use Powr’s Form Builder to create robust and customizable forms. And use video to your advantage: Shopify’s free online video maker can help you create marketing videos using footage from real experiences.
6. Classes and workshops
Independent fitness businesses took a big hit during the pandemic as many were forced to close physical studios and shut down programming. But courses proved to be easily portable to a virtual format. Yoga studios and boxing gyms alike moved to an online model, letting participants buy class passes and attend online.
If I Made creates original creative course content with industry professionals and delivers programming digitally to students—but it didn’t start that way. “Wedding Styling 101 was an in-person workshop curriculum,” says founder Emily Newman. “We then took that content and brought it all online to make it more portable and accessible. Our courses are a combination of worksheets, PDFs, and video.”
Across the world, in Italy, Nonna Nerina made the same move, responding to the dip in tourism in 2020 by converting her pasta-making classes into an online format delivered globally through her Nonna Live website. Other businesses can sell passes to in-person or virtual classes through a Shopify store, too—think art, music, coding, languages, and more.
💡 How to make it work: An app like Courses can turn your Shopify store into a course platform, allowing you to create lessons to sell online. Create course content using Shopify’s free online video maker and sell it over and over. Bold Memberships is a great option for gyms and fitness studios who want to grant access to a suite of courses.
Rental businesses are services that make physical products available to customers for a predetermined amount of time. Customers pay for the advantage of using an item for a brief period without the associated long-term costs like storage and maintenance.
Mannequin Madness sells retail props to other shops through its online store, but also rents them temporarily. “I saw a mannequin on Craigslist and was going to buy it for an art project,” says owner and accidental entrepreneur Judi Henderson-Townsen. “When I discovered that the seller operated the only mannequin rental company in town and was leaving the state, I bought his entire inventory.” While its rental catalog is available online, Mannequin Madness uses a contact form to assess customer needs before processing the rental.
Dress rental business The Fitzroy, however, takes a self-serve approach by asking customers to select a rental period using a date selector variant available on its product page to “check out” the item. It relies on a simple app and a clear FAQ page to make the rental and return processes smooth for customers and relatively hands-off for its staff.
💡 How to make it work: IzyRent: Rentals & Bookings is an app designed specifically for stores offering rentals. It allows for one-click rentals on your website. Rentals may require extra information to be collected from customers, and an app like Powr’s Form Builder will help you do just that. You can also use a tool like Shopify’s free QR code generator to create QR codes that customers present at pickup.
8. Quotes, estimates, and assessments
GoGreenSolar.com sells and installs solar energy solutions for homeowners. Due to the custom nature of the product and the additional work involved in installation, customers can request quotes and expert advice through the contact forms available on the company’s site. Self-serve quote requests save time and staff resources for businesses that provide highly technical services and products. In most cases, quotes are free and used as a sales tool.
Estimates or assessments that are more involved or require an in-person visit may be provided to potential customers at a cost. This is a great marketing tool for the business’ other services. For example, a business that provides home energy upgrades may sell energy audits through a website. The final report would then inform customers how they can recoup the audit cost through energy savings—by buying the business’ upgrades.
💡 How to make it work: An app like Globo Request a Quote can help you gather customer quote requests from your store and convert that quote into a real order.
Many charities use Shopify as the merchandise arm of their organization, selling branded goods with profits supporting the cause. But charities and non-profits can also use an online store to “sell” one-time and recurring donations.
An Act of Dog is a registered charity that sells pet paintings, with proceeds supporting various animal rescue organizations. The company also lets customers donate directly to causes through the same website.
10. Event tickets
Event tickets can be sold easily online using apps designed for this purpose. Online ticketing can be employed by a number of businesses from event spaces to independent theatres to pop-up haunted houses.
Ticketing site Undertow works with select artists to sell tickets online for music events throughout the US. It uses a paperless delivery method, sending downloadable tickets to customers.
Run Across America uses ticketing in a different way, selling access to virtual run challenges that participants complete on their own schedule. Purchases include access to a tracking app and a sweatshirt.
💡 How to make it work: Design, sell, and scan event tickets with the Event Ticketing app that syncs with your Shopify store. Also, you may find Shopify’s free QR code generator helpful to create unique QR codes that customers can present at live events.
11. Digital gift cards
The simplest of non-tangible goods to add to any website is gift cards. From Shopify, you can enable gift cards for most stores. They’re perfect for any business, allowing recipients to redeem codes online for products or services sold through your website.
Home decor brand Apt2B sells branded gift cards in multiple denominations, redeemable for furniture and decor goods through its online store.
💡 How to make it work: Customize your gift card design using Shopify’s free template.
12. Live streams
While there are a number of ways to monetize online content through ads and tips directly on social platforms, creators can protect their independence by owning the process end to end.
Streaming site Fans Live sells tickets to livestream events that customers can access by logging into the site’s portal. The benefit of selling and hosting livestreams through your site is that the content and customer information is owned by you—not a third party.
💡 How to make it work: Integrate an app like Single with your Shopify store to monetize video content and streams, and get access to robust reporting.
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